From writer/director Adamma Ebo comes a pleasant, diverting mockumentary: Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. Like a good mockumentary, it specializes in plucking low-hanging fruit – in this case, the excess and cluelessness of megachurches. And while it seldom reaches beyond the easy jokes, it was refreshing to see the format done with the accuracy and insight that only a true insider can provide (I can only assume that Ebo has experience with megachurches – if not, props to her for nailing that subculture).
The actual plot is very straightforward: after being embroiled in a scandal, pastor Lee-Curtis Childs and his wife Trinitie are re-opening their megachurch. So they’ve hired a film-maker to document their resurrection. Naturally, hardly anybody wants to return to a church where the pastor was rightfully accused of grooming vulnerable young men (who were of legal age, but still…) Especially when he railed against the evils of homosexuality in his sermons.
But Lee-Curtis, aside from being completely unrepentant, is confident that the good Lord will bring the sheep back in droves. As is Trinitie, who believes that her husband is… Well, it’s not entirely clear what she thinks about him, or his actions. It is clear that she’s staying married, because divorce is un-Christian. But as the film-maker within the film points out, she really has no good reason to stay with this man…
This is arguably the most dramatic part of the film – the inner struggle that Trinitie faces, the struggle to reconcile the ideals of her faith with the reality of the scandal. She’s played flawlessly by Regina Hall, who transitions seamlessly between laughably oblivious and pitiably trapped. Sterling K. Brown is great as Lee-Curtis, don’t get me wrong, but Hall is the real star of the show. She single-handedly adds gravitas to what is otherwise a very light, surface-level lampoon.
That said – the film is, thankfully, still very heavy on the lampooning. There’s a fantastically wide range of comedy employed. From the ‘specific details that only an insider knows’, like a literal suit of armor to represent the armor of God, or acronyms like EGO – Edging God Out. To the ‘you’re not filming this awkward moment, are you?’ gimmick. To the shock humor of Lee-Curtis shamelessly trying to seduce a young man, especially when he JUST PAID A SETTLEMENT TO THE VICTIMS FROM HIS LAST SCANDAL!!
Perhaps the best gimmick though is seeing the ‘faithful five’ – the five congregants who still believe in Lee-Curtis. Those five actors get a lot of laughs from playing their characters, even if only briefly. There’s the elderly couple who just doesn’t believe the media. The mother whose daughter likes church, so why not? And the young man who believes that Lee-Curtis is just ahead of his time, and the Bible is okay with grooming (???).
Now, the cynical side of me recognizes that this gimmick, and even the larger plot, may have been a Covid-driven necessity. “Let’s film inside this big megachurch, but oh shoot, we can’t fill it with people, umm… Oh, what if it was involved in a scandal, so it’s basically EMPTY the whole time!”. But even if it was a Covid decision, it paid off. I appreciate that Ebo found a way to film a sparse cast without tying the story into the pandemic.
My only legitimate complaints are twofold. One: the rules of the documentary weren’t quite clear. There were a few scenes, like in the bedroom, where I’m hard-pressed to believe that a documentary crew would have access. Also, the aspect ratio changed sporadically, as if the doc crew was filming with two different cameras… It was mildly distracting, though not unwatchably so.
My only other complaint is that I’d have liked to see more. Some of the jokes dragged on a little too long, like the ‘honk for Jesus’ sequences. I’d rather have those trimmed down and replaced with other megachurch jokes. But on the whole, it’s still an entertaining, laugh-out-loud time with memorable characters, pinpoint satire, and some genuine stakes to round it all out.
Rating: 7.8 / 10